There’s been a lot of emotional talk and statements back and forth about Vincent Lecavalier, captain of your Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s no wonder, really: when anyone signs a contract worth more in total than some countries’ gross domestic products (GDP), fans of that particular team expect the player to produce a lot, and produce consistently. Vinny is no exception. For years fans all across Bolts Nation have lamented and criticized The Captain’s production, pointing to his contract (11 years, worth $85 million, with an annual cap hit of just under $7.75 million per year according to CapGeek.com). In this article, I’ll take a deep look at Vinny’s career stats, compare them to his fellow Lightning forwards during his career, as well as compare him to his fellow All-Star forwards from his draft class (1998). In the spirit of full disclosure, I embarked on this research hoping to prove Vinny’s continued worth to the Lightning, but I was fully understanding the stats could show the exact opposite.
First, let’s look at Vinny’s numbers from year to year. The numbers are exactly what you expect from a forward of his caliber. However, the number that sticks out to me is Vinny’s +/- numbers--particularly those in recent years. Early in his career, one could make the argument that offensively-gifted forwards don’t grasp the defensive roles for a few years into their career, and Vinny was likely no different. However, after finishing the 2007-2008 campaign at a +2, he’s been at negative +/- since, finishing last year’s highly successful year (for the team) at a -16 (his worst year since 2008). This season, he’s on pace to have a +/- of -3.73 (through 44 games, extrapolated to 82 games). For the length of his career, his +/- total is -112, averaging -9.17. Though +/- is not a perfect stat, it can be seen as simple indicator of prowess defensively. Vinny’s career stats certainly don’t paint the picture of defensive skill (especially compared to fellow 1998 draftees Simon Gagne and Alex Tanguay, who have career +/- totals of +130 and +152, respectively).
Another surprise is the number of PIMs put up by The Captain. Never in his career has he had less than 23 PIMs--and that career low was his rookie campaign. His least discplined year was back in 2005-2006, where Vinny put up a very Ryan Malone-like 90 PIMs. This year’s not much better: he’s on pace to have more than 78 PIMs before the regular season is complete. His career average is a shade over 55 PIMs, a number he’s not been under since the 06-07 season, except for last year (43 PIM). So certainly Vinny’s not the poster child for the Lady Byng Trophy like his teammate, Marty St Louis.
Below are those same numbers, graphically represented. Two quick notes about the graph: 1) I’ve put colored boxes over the graph to separate the head coaching tenures during Vinny’s career--I’ve excluded coaches that did not coach a full season (yes, I’m talking about you Barry Melrose), and; 2) the thinner lines in the same color are logarithmic trendlines.
Notice the trendlines are going up. Statistically speaking, the projected dip in all the projected offensive totals for 2010 should be an abberation.
So, let’s now put those numbers into perspective with respect to The Captain’s team. To orient you to the graph upcoming, the number in parenthesis after the year on the x-axis (that’s the one on the bottom) is the number of forwards that made at least one appearance in the season for the Lightning in that year. This number is important because it puts perspective on the ranking for the team given to Vinny’s numbers. Also, like the Offensive Production graph above, I separated each coaching change with a colored box. I caution everyone still reading this article to give very low credit to the SHG stats for each year. Because there are so few SHGs in the NHL, and even fewer in the Lightning games (well, at least for our team), many of the years in which Vinny’s listed as tied for first or second place on the team (denoted by 1 (T) or 2 (T), respectively), though he may have scored 1, 2, or 0 SHG that season.
In the graph below, Vinny’s numbers are consistently in the top of the team in all the offensive categories (bottom of the graph is better--in other words ranking #1 on the team is good, ranking #23 is not good. On the other hand, ranking high on the team in PIM is not necessarily good--especially for a sniper/play-maker like Vinny). In fact, Vinny’s average ranking on the team is 1.8, 2.9, and 2.6 in goals, assists and points. That sort of production wasn’t accomplished in the first part of his career, either. Notice his average ranking on the team in every category is better since the Cup year (2004) than before, the exceptions being PPG, SHG and SOG.
Looking at the trend lines (all of them linear, for ease of visualization), we see a significant negative slope for the +/- trendline--not a good sign, especially for someone with minimal apparent defensive skill as Vinny. Another negative trendline slope is found on the PIM trendline--a good sign. All the other trendlines have a slight negative slope, indicating slightly higher team rankings are predicted statistically (remember, the better the rank on the team, the lower the number on the graph for the offensive statistics).
Those statistics are nice, but do not take into account injuries or other instances where Vinny’s playing time was affected. In the graph below, I’ve averaged his offensive statistics (G, A, P) against his TOI in the season listed at the bottom of the graph. Note that the 2011-2012 statistics are extrapolated from his statistics through 44 games. Again, I’ve put logarithmic trendlines on each of the offensive statistics and labeled them as such. Notice all the trendlines are pointing up--a sign for continued success for Vinny in the OZ. The only warning sign I can find here is the trendline for G/TOI is noticeably more flat than the other two.
The graphs above show pretty clearly--well, as clearly as possible--Vinny’s not quite at the peak of his offensive output yet. What will happen in the years to come--that is still up for debate.
Let’s compare Vinny’s career thus far with those of his fellow All-Stars also drafted in 1998: Jonathan Cheechoo, Pavel Datsuyk, Simon Gagne, Scott Gomez, Shawn Horcoff, Mike Ribiero, Brad Richards, and Alex Tanguay. In the chart below, it is very clear Vinny has more GP and G than his ASG alumni.
For the numbers closer together, it’s necessary to visit the data fields from which that graph was made. Below, each of the stats that are better than the average for these players (far right column) are in bold text. Note that Vinny is bettering the average of his draft class mates in all but two (PIM and +/-) categories.
Let’s compare salaries, then, shall we? It seems to be a major point of contention during any discussion of Vinny’s worth or unworth. According to CapGeek.com, Vinny has the 6th highest cap hit in the NHL. The top 5 are Alex Ovechkin ($9.5 million), Evgeni Malkin ($8.7 million), Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million), Eric Staal ($8.25 million), and Rick Nash ($7.8 million). Dany Heatley, are not far behind ($7.5 million each).
Considering all the data pointing still up toward further productive offensive years, and considering Vinny’s not only out-playing his draft class All-Star alumni (including Datsuyk) but also many of the players with higher cap hits than his, I think the evidence is pretty strong Vinny not only should stay a Lightning player for the foreseeable future, but also he will be a productive Bolt as well.